Richard DuFour

Richard DuFour, EdD, was a public school educator for 34 years. A prolific author and sought-after consultant, he is recognized as one of the leading authorities on helping school practitioners implement the PLC at Work™ process.

The Role of an Elective Teacher in a PLC

A frequent question that surfaces when schools attempt to implement the PLC concept is, "What about the electives. Where do they fit?" If an elective teacher is the only person in the school who teaches a particular subject, we have suggested vertical teams (for example, the middle school band teacher teaming with the elementary school band teachers to create a strong band program). Another possibility is all the teachers of a particular elective area being released for district-teaming on a regular basis (for example, all the elementary school art teachers convening monthly to clarify what skills students should acquire, ways of assessing the skills, and practicing assessing actual student work to ensure consistency of standards).

Elective teachers can also look for connections with core curriculum teachers. The following letter comes from Susan Williams an elective teacher from Freeport Intermediate School in Brazosport, Texas who responded to an inquiry about how she "fits" in the PLC model at her school. Freeport is nationally recognized middle school featured in Whatever it Takes. Its principal, Clara Sale-Davis is an extraordinary leader, and Ms. Williams articulates the PLC concepts with exceptional eloquence. She has given us permission to share the correspondence with blog readers.

Rick DuFour Septermber 25, 2007

My name is Susan Williams and I am the Spanish teacher at Freeport Intermediate School. My principal, Mrs. Davis forwarded me the message that you sent her concerning the role of elective teachers in our continual journey for academic excellence. First of all let me thank you for taking the time to contact us with you questions. We are proud of our school, community and students and are always thrilled to hear from other educators who share our vision and interests.

We, the teachers at F.I.S. share a common goal. That goal is to do whatever it takes to push our students to the highest levels of academic, emotional and social well being. We learned many years ago, thanks to the outstanding leadership of our principal, Mrs. Davis that a common goal is met only through collaborative efforts. Teachers cannot work in isolation and expect school wide success in core subjects, electives, student behavior or extracurricular activities. Students must expect uniformity throughout their curriculum and their school day.

As to how I, as an elective teacher am able to impact the goal of our school in a positive way, it is simple. Through our weekly agendas that are placed in our boxes on a weekly basis, I stay informed as to the material that the core teachers are presenting and then find ways to incorporate it into my lessons. For example, at the beginning of the school year, I cover geography of the Spanish speaking world. In doing so, we label continents, major bodies of water and basic geographical features. It so happens that they are doing the same thing in 7th grade Social Studies only I do it with them in Spanish. By doing so, students receive constant reinforcement from two different teachers with different personalities and teaching styles. Additionally, they are meeting a part of the scope and sequence for high school Spanish 1. This same practice continues throughout the school year allowing me to not only teach in my content area, but to collaborate with other teachers on projects and interdisciplinary units.

I feel that it is my moral responsibility to help mold and create good citizens who are educated and understand how the world is interconnected. Collaboration is a perfect opportunity to do so. For example, two years ago, our school participated in a school wide interdisciplinary lesson on great inventions throughout history. In History, students researched inventors and inventions. In Science, students created their own inventions. In Language, they helped put together the research that was done in history class in narrative form. In Math, students researched the measurements and mathematical principles behind great inventions. In my class we researched great inventions such as the railroad that helped connect the Spanish speaking world to other industrialized nations. We then helped the Art department make etchings and prints of the inventions. Our awesome band learned about music that came about as a result of inventions or that had inventions as a part of their title or musicality.

On the day of the school wide presentation, our artwork was put on display; the history students acted out and or read the narratives written by the language students. Our band presented information about what they had learned about inventions and inventors and performed fabulous music. Then, as icing on the cake, our science students entered their original inventions into a school wide competition in which various winners were chosen in an after school science fair. Parents, district administrators and community members attended the presentation which was the culmination of a couple of weeks of lessons. We have done similar school wide units on immigration and jazz music.

Thus, through collaboration, communication and creativity, I am able to stay abreast of the academic climate of our campus and am able to help reinforce the core subjects and enrich what they are learning through the added material in my class. Lastly, I do not think of myself as an elective teacher. I am simply a teacher who happens to have a specialty area that others do not posses. As a result, I can do additional things that other teachers may not be equipped to do. For example, I tutor ESL students in writing and in any other way that helps the core teachers and other electives effectively teach students who are not proficient in English. As a result of this collaboration, ALL of our students excel.

I hope that I have been able to shed some light on the question that you proposed and I would love for you to be able to come and visit us here in Freeport and share in some of our Rowdy Redskin hospitality.


Susan Williams

Spanish teacher F.I.S.


Brian Wis

Rick, I am disappointed in the lack of a productive, published solution for singleton teachers. I moderate a group of 11,000 music teachers, and I am hearing the same story all over the nation: Electives teachers are being grouped together as a PLC. We all know this is not how the model is supposed to work. Talking about similar concepts, or how we can aid the "core subjects" is inappropriate and has almost nothing to do with the original concept of your model.

We need you to expand your thinking to include wider PLC groups that go outside of the building and (if needed) the district. It is far more productive for a teacher to work with someone across the country who teaches the *same* course than it is to sit in a room and talk about what "texture" means in visual art vs. music, or how a choir class can aid the English curriculum. Students who take an elective deserve the same rich experience in THAT course as they receive in other classes that have a true PLC engine backing them.

At best, singleton teachers are getting 5% of the power of your PLC model. Many administrators do not fully understand that the core of the PLC model is built on common assessments and refining instruction based on data review. THIS is what singleton teachers need, of course, just like all other teachers. We need *you* to help make this clear, since you have the voice. Will you?

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I am an elementary music educator and I, too, find trouble collecting data to assess students like a classroom teacher. Often I can observe the progress of students, but it is not as quantitative as, say, test scores. While I'm glad music is not a "tested" subject, it's difficult to determine how I want to assess the data I receive.

In my district, we do vertical teams for electives, or "specialists." Often we do not get too much time together, and although it is valuable to trade instructional strategies and resources with my colleagues in other schools, we do not teach the same students. So I am faced with collaborating with the rest of the teachers in my building, none of which are music teachers. Through these partnerships, I've thought of ways to integrate classroom curriculum into the music room - through poems, vocabulary, etc. My newest idea is to build on the students' writing skills to help them critique their own performances and performances of others. While this serves to create cross-curricular experiences, depending knowledge for the students, it also helps me to better connect with my colleagues in the building and learn more about how our students are learning.

I regards to collaboration, community, and activity, I have also had a colleague (in my position in another school) create school plays, complete with songs, dialogue, and costumes, that are about a curriculum topic for each grade 1-3. The plays are age-appropriate with simple songs and speaking parts, with input from the classroom teachers and his own musical expertise. The result is an exceptional, entertaining, content-filled performance, that not only shows off the students' musical skills, but completes and shows off their unit of study to the educational community.

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I am also a visual arts teacher in California and am just getting introduced to the PLC idea and how it might be implemented in my classroom. I would love to hear from others on specific successes used on formative assessments and then using the results (usually the completed projects) to find ways to give feedback that produces the student learning that is the focus of PLC's. Would love to hear from others who have been there already.

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I have a question for other visual arts teachers in PLC schools. At our inservices, the teachers of academic subjects analyze student progress with data they have collected - math scores, SRI reading scores etc.
How do you collect "data" in a visual arts class? And if you do collect data, how do you use it to improve learning in your art classroom? Keep in mind, my class is a middle school arts overview - we do a little of every medium.

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This blog and site has been a valuable source of information. Thank you for making it available and easy to access. I am the proud principal of the Learning Academy at E. J. Swint. I would like to offer some feedback on how added instructional impact through the collaborative work of our classroom teachers and specials teachers (Art, Music, PE, Media, Technology). In our relentless pursuit of learning excellence, we take a ready-fire-aim approach to much of what we implement. The collaborative work between classroom teachers and specials teachers has taken on a life of it's own at our school this year. I am in the process of supporting teachers by putting structures and processes in place to facilitate effective communication, planning and instructional alignment. What I find most exciting is that our teachers made a decision coming into this school year to find ways to make it work. Our early success began with a decision and attitudinal shift and is now being supported by resources, structures and templates. I believe that "you will find what you look for, every time," and our teachers have decided to look for how to integrate identified learning standards into their specials instruction. Once that decision was made, for lack of a better cliché, having a "can do" attitude, then the collaborative juices began to flow and a host of creative instructional strategies sprang forth. Our classroom and specials teachers support each other by displaying each others quality student work results. I have been in situations where all we could see are our differences, and as a result, could not find workable common ground.

As I see the evidence of this powerful integration, and witness the informal communication between teachers, I know my role is to support the process by providing the structures and templates that will make for more effective communication. While it is my goal to provide leadership, guidance, resources, and templates on the "front end" of all we do, I am humbled and proud of the fact that I am now chasing teams of teachers who left the starting blocks before I arrived to the race.


Ken Williams
The Learning Academy at E.J. Swint

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